Key Steps to De-stress and Improve Your Energy and Focus
Human body is usually able to cope with moderate acute forms of physical and psychological stress; while, chronic stress impairs body's coping mechanism which leads to appearance of symptoms and diseases including digestive disturbances, heart and circulation disorders, cognitive decline, psychological and mood disorders, metabolic syndrome, weight gain, auto immune diseases and even advanced cellular damage. Better understanding of how the body's chemistry changes under chronic stress enables us to take steps toward reversing the changes and improving our overall health.
To treat symptoms of chronic stress, usually taking conventional medicines alone will not be sufficient and in some cases the adverse reactions make the situation even worse than it was, creating another level of stress, mood and physical disorders. These types of drugs are mainly designed to mask the symptoms of stress and often do not address the hormonal and chemical changes such as the adrenal related hormones.
Body regulates the stress via a complex hormone messaging from the pituitary gland in the brain to the rest of the organs like adrenal. Then in response, adrenal produces hormones like cortisol and chatecholamines (adrenalin & nor-adrenaline) affecting the rest of the body like heart, and muscles. Chronic stress causes long time derangement of these hormones and the way our bodies react.
As a simple example, chronic stress causes higher than usual production of adrenaline which stimulates the heart muscle, affecting its function and resulting in abnormal or irregular heartbeats. This scenario could be replicated by affecting the digestive system, Immune system, respiratory system, nervous system, bladder muscles, sexual system, etc.
Other hormone which is often heard in relation to the stress is called cortisol. What does Cortisol do?
Healthy level of cortisol is necessary for maintenance of optimal health; yet, in both low and high levels it could be very damaging. Cortisol receptors are found on cells all over the body; therefore, the effects of changes in cortisol levels could impact all the organs and tissues.
Cortisol plays an important role in our metabolism by regulating the blood sugar levels via gluconeogenesis in the liver. It also regulates metabolism of fats, carbohydrates, and proteins. It participates in Catabolism meaning that it helps to break down big molecules. So; imbalanced cortisol levels could change the body's composition and shape.
Cortisol balances the immune system and inflammation. High cortisol level suppresses the immune system exposing the body to several infections; while, low cortisol levels cause auto immune diseases.
Cortisol is responsible in responding to stress. For example, Cortisol level goes up in response to the acute stressors which is so called "Fight or flight respond".
Considering everyone will respond to a stressor differently, only by knowing how the body responses to the stressors will help to better identify and prevent the damaging effects of the stress. Generally our body is responding to the stressors in three levels;
a) Immediate reaction which is known as " fight or flight " state.
b) Resistance state, which the body is trying to adapt to the stress. In this state the cortisol production increases. Long term stress will keep the body in this state causing prolonged metabolic change like insulin resistance.
c) Exhaustion state, is when the stress weakened and defeated the body's coping mechanism. In this stage the body is no longer responsive to the high levels of the stress hormones, or due to some diseases body is unable to sufficiently respond to the stress. In other words, chronic stress results in impaired stress respond. Therefore, the body is unable to perform normally and symptoms like constant fatigue, not being able to get up in the morning, mental fog, depression, anxiety, allergies, sugar craving, etc are observed.
Chronic exposure of brain cells to the stress hormones will alter their usual functions. This has been more evident in those regions of the brain which control mood and memory. For instance, it has been found that the brain cells become less and less responsive to serotonin.
Constant long term exposure to even a little higher than normal levels of cortisol is enough to create disease or symptoms. Modern society is full of stressors changing body's physiology and keeping the stress hormones elevated all day long. Thus, finding effective alternative ways of keeping the stress under control has become even more important.
Lifestyle changes, dietary supplement and natural herbs work hand in hand to provide relief from mild to moderate symptoms of impaired stress respond.
Stimulants like caffeinated drinks and alcohol alter the normal pattern of cortisol. This provokes stress and disrupts melatonin production which eventually will interrupt healthy sleep cycle. Melatonin is naturally produced by pineal gland in the brain. More melatonin is biologically produced at night acting against the cortisol. Shift work and exposure to stressors at night ,when the cortisol level should be low and melatonin high, will alter this balance in the opposite way contributing to sleep and mood disorders. Avoiding physical and emotional stressors and Implementing techniques of relaxation, meditation, Aroma therapy, and massage therapy has shown to improve the stress respond. Reduced melatonin production can be addressed by supplementing melatonin until the body regain its balance.
According to some studies imbalance female and male hormones affects the brain's response to the cortisol. For example Progesterone has some calming effects on the brain, while during menopause ,when the female hormone production is reduced, more women with mood disorders and anxiety are diagnosed . This could be prevented by natural hormone replacements. Let's not to forget that usage of steroid hormones and performance enhancing drugs also contribute to hormonal imbalance which alters the brain respond to cortisol leading to a wide range of mood disorders.
It is very well studied that providing a proper nutritional support for adrenal and brain helps the body to perform much better under stressful periods. Science shows High levels of steroids and cortisol deplete the body from Folic acid (folate) and vitamin B12 (methylcobalamin). On the other hand, B vitamins are also necessary for optimum adrenal function. This is highlighting the importance of supplementation with B complex to restore healthy stress respond.
Vitamin C is known for its antioxidant and immune supporting effects. Vitamin C is found in very high concentration in adrenal tissue, and it is shown to be very important in the adrenal function. Those who supplemented with vitamin C after exposure to extreme stress conditions, showed lower levels of inflammation, cortisol, and adrenalin in their blood versus the control group.
Minerals like Calcium and Magnesium participate in the production of adrenal hormones. Also; other trace minerals such as Chromium, Manganese, Selenium, and Zinc are found necessary for adrenal function.
Brain wave activity measures has shown amino acid L-Theanine is able to significantly calm the brain and promote relaxation; In addition, it helps to improve focus and attention during difficult tasks.
Cell membrane structure contains a phospholipid called Phosphatidylserine (PS). Taking PS supplement is found to weaken the affects of high cortisol levels on the brain; plus, it plays a role in improving the cellular communication.
When adrenal reaches to the point that is no longer able to produce sufficient amount of cortisol, the Licorice root extract will help. Licorice prevents the degradation of the hydrocortisone by the liver, and increases the level of cortisol in the blood. While Licorice is very helpful when the cortisol level is low, it may not be suitable for everyone under daily stress and should not be taken for long period of time without monitoring as it may contribute to high blood pressure and mineral imbalance.
Herbs with calming effects such as Valerian, Passionflower, hops, and lemon balm are shown to be very effective in controlling stress and reducing the negative symptoms of it. For example Lemon Balm is found to be effectively lower both anxiety symptoms and sleep disorders.
A group of herbs known for their Adaptogenic properties. These herbs are able to adjust the body's respond to the stress. They demonstrate their unique harmonising ability though different physiological pathways. Among them Rhodiola Rosea , Eleuthero, Panax ginseng, Ashwaganda (withania), and cordyceps are very well studied and known in natural medicine.
Rhodiola is found to be effective in treatment of fatigue associated with chronic stress due to its ability to lower both catecholamines and cortisol respond. Phyto-nutrients found in Panax Ginseng and other Ginseng family have been studied for their multiple health benefits including anti-fatigue and anti-depressive properties. Ashwagandha is shown to reduce cortisol levels and inflammatory markers while improving the DHEA levels. Bacopa in ayurvedic medicine is used as a tonic for nervous system. In clinical studies participants taking Bacopa demonstrated remarkable improvement in cognitive function and reduction in symptoms of anxiety. In a human trail supplementing with Cordyceps during exercise showed that it increased cathecholamines levels and endurance.
Of course when it comes to mood and memory, the benefits of omega 3 fatty acids can't be neglected. Omega 3 fatty acids including EFA and DHA balance the production of Omega 6. This balance is very important in regulating the response of receptors for adrenal hormones. Number of different researches suggest that those with mood disorders, depression, anxiety, and attention deficit disorders are greatly benefiting from a protocol including omega 3 fatty acids.
Compelling number of studies and clinical trials related to the stress and anxiety management suggest that the majority of unwanted stress related diseases and symptoms are preventable by knowing how individuals respond to the stress and identifying its signs and symptoms. Avoiding stressors and providing good nutrition seems to be the most effective and important step toward supporting mind and body against the daily emotional and physical stress.
Articles and products featured by Health Palace are collected from a variety of sources and are provided as a service by Health Palace. These newsletters, while of potential interest to readers, do not necessarily represent the opinions nor constitute the advice of Health Palace. Presented materials are only for information purposes and do not intent to treat, cure, or prevent any disease.
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